We’re only three weeks into the NBA season, but there have already been some “Wait, what?” moments.
They’re good now?
“Foul me, I f*cking dare you” – Andre Drummond
There have been a few teams that have surprised me with how much improvement they’ve shown thus far.
The Magic are playing well. Yes, the Orlando Magic. Coach Vogel has pushed the pace and it seems to be working out in the team’s favor. The team is also first in 3-point percentage in the league (second being Golden State) – perhaps this is unsustainable, but Gordon is currently shooting 59.5%, Fournier is shooting 42.9% and Vucevic (aka Vucci Mane) is shooting 42.6%. Oh yeah, and Fournier’s field goal percentage is hovering around 64%. Their offense has been fantastic, but the Magic are a team that worries me defensively. I’ll be interested to see if they can keep this offensive fire burning.
Detroit has been showing us glimpses of what they should have been a couple seasons ago. In addition to being a rebound machine, Drummond’s free-throw percentage has gone from just 38.6% last season to 64.2% this season (higher than last year’s MVP, Russell Westbrook). Reggie Jackson has been healthy this season and has been making a huge difference on this Pistons team. He’s upped his stats in points, rebounds, steals and assists per game, and has also increased his shooting percentages across the board. He seems to be playing with a sort of fearlessness that is extremely refreshing to see. In a matchup against the Hawks, Jackson struggled for most of the game, but in the final moments of a game that had gotten too close for comfort, made two clutch 3’s and two free throws. A lot of players would stay down after playing a rough three quarters, but he was able to overcome that and seal the win for his team.
I knew the Wolves would be a much-improved team from last year. Karl-Anthony Towns is such an offensive powerhouse, but is extremely worrisome on defense. As I mentioned in my previous piece, I’m super excited to see how the addition of Jimmy Butler affects the Wolves this season. He’s averaging about nine points less than he averaged last season, but his impact on this young team has already been huge. He has embraced a leader/facilitator role, which was lacking last season. He continues to be a beast on defense, and the Timberpups certainly benefit from his presence. I think as the season goes on and as the team’s defense (hopefully) improves, he’ll take on more of the offensive responsibility. Andrew Wiggins continues to better his game all around, and damn, he’s fun to watch. Their defense still leaves much to be desired, but there is still so much potential there.
Paul George Who?!
Pacers fans were not happy when Paul George ended up in OKC and Victor Oladipo was sent their way. I’m guessing they’re no longer feeling that way, or at least, not as much. Oladipo, aside from having my favorite name in the NBA, is having a fantastic season so far. Last year in OKC he was averaging just under 16 points, and this year he’s averaging 23 points. His usage rate hasn’t increased either, by the way. He did spend his college years playing for Indiana, so maybe being back home has sparked something in him. He looks a lot more confident and comfortable. He’s only 25, so seeing this kind of improvement doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a fluke. I don’t think anyone expected him to replace Paul George by any means, but he’s proven to be more productive than a lot of people (including myself) thought he’d be. Domantas Sabonis is another player who was traded to Indiana from OKC, and he, too, is showing a lot of promise. Westbrook dominated OKC last year, as he should have, but that wasn’t necessarily beneficial for Oladipo and Sabonis and their growth. Now that they’re on a team without such a dominant force, they’re able to take more shots, make more plays, and explore different roles.
Porzingis is an actual unicorn
I don’t know where this picture came from but it’s necessary
I have such a soft spot for Porzingis. I think it was because all the Knicks fans booed him during the draft (come guys, his parents came all the way from Latvia). I love an underdog. Anyway, I want to see him succeed and, boy, is he. The off-season was a rough one for Porzingis. Phil Jackson’s behavior regarding Carmelo Anthony pissed Porzingis (and everybody else) off. Jackson stupidly entertained the idea of trading Porzingis. Why though? Jackson stated he didn’t think Porzingis was physically ready to carry the team. Porzingis heard this, gave Jackson a big ol’ “LOL” and is currently killing it this season. Porzingis is clearly the greatest hope the Knicks have – a team should be built around him, no question. Now that Jackson is out, Porzingis’ star status is becoming even clearer. He’s 22 years-old, 7’3” with an 8’ wingspan and is averaging 30 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks per game – he’s shooting almost 50% from the field and 41% from 3. With Anthony in OKC, Porzingis is finding himself with the ball in his hands a lot more often. He is such a skilled player with the ability to produce both offensively and defensively. He’s my most-improved player of the year already, and we’re like, 3 weeks in. Unicorn status.
Draft duds and studs
It gets better, Lonzo
The #1 overall pick, Markelle Fultz, has left much to be desired so far in his time with the 76ers. First of all, what the f*ck is going on with his free-throw? Seriously. He also just hasn’t been shooting from any sort of distance. There’s been quite the controversy surrounding his injury, and no one seems to know what’s actually going on. He’s out indefinitely, so I guess we’ll see what happens when he’s back and healthy.
The #2 pick, Lonzo Ball, hasn’t been doing too hot, either. In addition to having the ultimate stage-dad (ugh), Lonzo is also having a really hard time shooting. He’s currently shooting 31.3% from the field, 25% from 3 and 50% from the line. Yikes. His poor shooting really makes him a huge liability on offense. He generally has a great overall vision, but his shooting absolutely must improve.
Lonzo Ball may not be living up to the hype, but one of his teammates certainly is. Kyle Kuzma has been an incredible asset to this Laker team. He’s averaging 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Unlike Ball’s abysmal shooting, Kuzma is shooting over 50% from the field. The fact that he can score in the paint as well as the perimeter and grab boards makes him a much more versatile player than Ball, in my opinion. Kuzma for President. Not really, but give the man the credit he deserves.
I’ll get into my thoughts on the Celtics more in a sec, but first I want to talk about their star rookie: Jayson Tatum. Tatum was drafted third by Boston, but has been outperforming the first and second picks by far, in my opinion. So far this season, Tatum is shooting 50% from the field , 48.9% from beyond the arc, and 82.8% from the line. He’s able to score, absolutely, but he’s a huge help on the defensive end as well. He uses his height and length to deflect passes, contest shots, and threaten the ballhandler’s drives to the basket.
Celtics success sans Hayward
Horford is Thirty (-One), Flirty and Sturdy
The Boston Celtics are really good. Like, really good. When Gordon Hayward went down within the first five minutes of the first game of the season, I almost cried. Obviously, an injury like that is terrifying and I want him to be healthy, but I was also looking forward to seeing what would happen with Hayward and Irving playing together. I thought the loss of Hayward and his beautiful, beautiful hair would impact the Celtics hugely in a negative way, but…it hasn’t. Not even a little bit.
Overall, the Celtics team is young, which I thought of as a disadvantage (for now). I was wrong, again. All the young players on the team have really stepped up their game, and the old fogy on the team, Al Horford, has been playing fantastically. Horford is shooting better than he has in the past, yes, but he’s also been able to stop seemingly unstoppable players defensively. Against the Sixers, Horford successfully defended two of the most talented young players, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. When Boston played New York, Kristaps Porzingis only shot 3 for 14 after playing two 30+ point games because of Horford’s defense.
Kyrie Irving looks extremely comfortable on this young Boston team. Irving is an incredible point guard, but I admit, I thought being on the same team as King James made him better. He’s proven that he can bring his A game on a younger, different team, and then some. His defense is looking a lot better this season, making him less of a liability on that end.
Human Highlight Reel: Jaylen brown
I already mentioned Jayson Tatum and the incredible impact he’s had on the Celtics this season, but another young player who has been a huge factor is Jaylen Brown. He’s taken his role as starting shooting guard seriously, and continuously shows improvement on all ends. He’s averaging 15.1 and 6.8 rebounds, but has taken massive strides on the defensive end as well. He contests shots and discourages drives to the basket, and he does it consistently.
I was going to talk about Cleveland but, well, I’ll save that for a later date. I literally can’t even.
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